HE national disputes 2021

Boycott Leicester

Ben Pope (University of Manchester)

I'm currently a fixed-term researcher in medieval history at Manchester University, and since starting my PhD in 2010 I've experienced many aspects of the tragedy and farce which is precarity in higher education in both the UK and Germany. Through recent work with the Manchester Anti-Precarity Network and Manchester University UCU I'm well aware of the additional difficulties faced by, amongst others, precarious staff with caring responsibilities, disabilities, and/or without the means to bridge between fixed-term contracts which are now the real 'qualification' for progress in so many HE career paths.

The enormous costs of precarity to individual health and wellbeing and to the diversity and sustainability of the sector are now well known, but employers continue to insist that supposed realities of workforce planning make large-scale precarity unavoidable. We must counter this narrative more directly.

I'm therefore standing for election primarily because I wish to work with comrades to develop an anti-precarity campaign rooted in the fact that precarious work is always a transfer of risk from employer to employee. Temporary staff must be compensated for the high risk of redundancy which is forced onto them so that employers can escape the often negligible risk of reduced workforce efficiency (defined in narrowly economic terms).

This risk sharing could take the form of paid career development opportunities in addition to the original contract (e.g. internships and fellowships). But any form of compensation should encourage universities to insure themselves against the risk of additional costs by employing more permanent staff and by working with research funders to change funding models. Workforces could and would be managed very differently if exploitation through temporary employment and ever-expanding workloads was not the default.

Whatever its eventual outcome, a campaign for risk-sharing compensation would immensely strengthen our existing anti-precarity and workload campaigns by clearly demonstrating to colleagues, students and the wider public that workforce planning is not a binary choice between permanence and precarity for individuals, but a question of who bears the cost of managing the systemic risk. Whilst some temporary staff will always be necessary, the exploitation of staff through risk dumping is never inevitable, and never acceptable.

I'm a member of the new UCU Commons network (www.UCUCommons.org) and share its principles on equality and transparency, and on the importance of embedding industrial action in a wider strategy to win real and lasting change in our workplaces. I see a campaign for risk sharing as a key part of that strategy.

I would also like to be a voice on the NEC for my fellow autistic members, and to advocate for the value of neurodiversity in decision-making processes.

For more detail on my ideas, please see www.PopevsPrecarity.com and Twitter: @benpope45.

Last updated: 28 January 2021